PTTS demands Florida Sportsman name names of its forum members

Silver King Entertainment Save The Tarpon Subpoena To Wick Enterprises, Inc. 1 Page 1

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Southwest Florida boat dealer Gary Ingman and the outfit behind the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series are back in court again, this time in an attempt to force the owners of a popular online outdoors forum to publicly name names and fork over other personal information contained in its corporate database of more than 18,000 members and nearly 1.7 million posts.

The latest maneuver by Silver King Entertainment LLC in its protracted legal battle to silence Save The Tarpon Inc. and others critical of the PTTS surfaced November 12, 2013 in papers filed with the Charlotte County Circuit Court.

Port Charlotte-based Silver King is claiming Save The Tarpon, its directors and its more than 22,000 supporters worldwide have caused the televised Boca Grande Pass fishing tournament to lose more than $500,000 in sponsorship and other revenues since the tarpon conservation group’s efforts began in May of 2012.

MillerCoors, the signature sponsor of the PTTS through its Miller Lite brand, recently moved to sever its ties to Ingman’s controversial NASCAR-style, made-for-TV tournament after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted in September to outlaw a fishing method commonly used and promoted by PTTS participants throughout the event’s nine-year Fox Sports-affiliated cable television run.

SUBPOENA TO PRODUCE THINGS WITHOUT DEPOSITION
TO: WICK ENTERPRISES, INC.

YOU ARE COMMANDED to appear at Feldman Morgado, PA, 501 N. Reo Street, Tampa, Florida 33609 December 12, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. and have with you at that time and place the following:

1. Any and all documents, records, correspondence, legal documents, files and information regarding the user accounts of forum participants for user names RJ Kirker, WhiteBacon, Joey Buttons, OldHewes18Red, Jirvin70 and RestlessNative in connection with the website forums of http://forums.floridasportsman.com.

If you fail to appear, you may be in Contempt of Court.

Ingman and his Silver King partners are directing their current legal salvo at Wick Enterprises Inc., a Stuart, Fla. company that publishes Florida Sportsman Magazine and operates a companion Florida Sportsman Forum. The Florida Sportsman Forum is a widely-read online message board that hosts a broad range of candid member discussions centering on local and statewide fish and game topics.

In a two-page notice filed with the court, Ingman’s company revealed its intent to go after Florida Sportsman’s business records in an attempt to ferret out the identities of forum members who have posted comments critical of the PTTS and its methods.

The PTTS move comes close on the heels of a now-deleted Florida Sportsman Forum conversation that centered on certain documents offered up by the tournament’s lawyers as potential evidence in its lawsuit against Save The Tarpon and others.

The PTTS documents that triggered the short-lived forum discussion were, according to information posted to the Florida Sportsman site, found to contain links associated with sexually explicit and compromising material reproduced by the tournament’s host and general manager Joe Mercurio.

The PTTS is seeking to force Florida Sportsman to turn over private personal information about its forum members.

The PTTS is seeking to force Florida Sportsman to turn over private personal information about its forum members.

Following a brief, two-page discussion contained within a 2,068-post conversation boasting 108,569 views, Florida Sportsman moderators locked the thread and ultimately deleted all references to Mercurio and the compromising material turned over by the PTTS lawyers.

In apparent response, PTTS attorney Dennis A. Creed III of the Tampa area firm of Feldman Morgado P.A., is aiming his latest legal broadside at the Florida Sportsman Forum and six of its 18,000-plus hunting and fishing enthusiast members. His notice filed with the court, and the corresponding subpoena, both fall under Florida’s sweeping public access and broad open records laws.

His demand that Florida Sportsman produce the identities of its members, who traditionally post under so-called “screen names,” is a move likely to draw the interest and ire of online privacy advocates. Florida Sportsman could also opt to invoke privilege under Florida’s “Shield Law” in response to Creed’s forthcoming subpoena.

If Creed prevails in his bid on behalf of the PTTS to pry open Florida Sportsman’s books, the tactic also runs the obvious risk of creating a precedent-setting chilling effect.

There are, among the thousands of registered forum members, many who would likely be alienated or driven away by the potential prospect of having their personal and professional identities revealed if they permit their screen names to be attached to future Florida Sportsman forum posts.

Creed’s subpoena would give Wick Enterprises Inc. and Florida Sportsman until December 12 at 5 p.m. to turn over “any and all documents, records, correspondence, legal documents, files and information regarding the user accounts of forum participants.” Creed then identifies six of those forum members by their adopted screen names.

Creed also delivered a warning to Florida Sportsman’s owners, threatening that if they fail to turn over the forum member identities demanded by the PTTS and its lawyers by the December deadline, “you may be in contempt of court.”

Protest in the Pass

Protest In The Pass

Join Save the Tarpon and its supporters on May 19th at 6:45 am for “Protest in the Pass.”  We are showing up by water to protest the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) as it begins its 2013 season events.

Last year we were on the beach. But, this year we will be on the WATER! If you don’t have a boat, but would like to attend, please contact us and we will connect you with a captain.

All participating boats will meet up on what is known as the Hill. It is the area just East of the old phosphate dock. We will meet at 0645 on May 19th. Please bring your bullhorns and banners. The PTTS opening event is from 0700 to 10am.

WHY: We strongly oppose, and call for the immediate termination of, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) in Boca Grande, Florida. Our opposition stems from the destructive, unethical fishing practices and unsportsmanlike conduct promoted by this six week long, for-profit fishing tournament television show. We believe the disruptive fishing methods endorsed by the PTTS and employed by its participants are likely causing the Tarpon to change their movement, feeding, and spawning behaviors and is threatening the survival of the fishery. The hyper-aggressive culture of disrespect created by the PTTS has, and continues to severely hinder fair and equal access to the fishery by all other user groups for the sole purpose of generating increased revenue for shareholders of the tournament and its associated production.

If you’d like to RSVP, please do so by visiting the Save the Tarpon Facebook page.  Your name will not be visible to the public.

Drum roll, please…

Need a bedtime story for the kiddies?  Or perhaps some bathroom reading material?  Well, we’ve got you covered.  Enjoy.

(Click here to see the PTTS Complaint as a PDF)

 

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PTTS claims $500,000 boycott loss, wants court to silence Save The Tarpon

PTTS LawsuitClaiming it has lost more than $500,000 in sponsorship, TV advertising, entry fees and other revenues, the company that owns and operates the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) has gone to court in an attempt to silence Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its more than 20,000 members and supporters.

Silver King Entertainment, Inc., which operates the PTTS, is seeking an emergency injunction against the organization in a 235 page civil complaint filed April 29 in Sarasota County Circuit Court. In addition to the injunction aimed at restraining Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its board members from speaking out on issues concerning the PTTS and the Boca Grande tarpon fishery, Silver King Entertainment, Inc. is seeking unspecified damages from the non-profit advocacy group and selected members of its board of directors.

Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save The Tarpon, Inc. and one of the defendants individually targeted in the complaint, said that he is not particularly surprised that Silver King Entertainment, Inc. filed the PTTS lawsuit given the apparent effectiveness of the group’s efforts in making the voices of its members and supporters heard.

McLaughlin, who referred legal questions to Save The Tarpon, Inc.’s attorneys, said the PTTS charted its own course nearly a year ago when tournament organizers told the fledgling organization it would continue engaging in practices the conservation group considers harmful to the fish and the iconic fishery until “someone tells us to stop.”

Noting Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s claim that it has since lost more than $500,000 attributable to the actions of Save The Tarpon, Inc., McLaughlin characterized the tournament’s stated injuries as “self-inflicted” and contrary to Silver King’s prior public comments that the group’s efforts were having no impact on the PTTS, its sponsors, or its participants.

“They refused to listen to the voices of those whose only goal was to preserve, protect and grow this storied fishery,” McLaughlin said. “And now they want to make those same voices shut up and go away. As the courts have repeatedly and clearly stated, this isn’t how it works in this country.”

Save The Tarpon, Inc. is represented by Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, P.A. Beason declined comment, noting that the lengthy PTTS complaint is still being reviewed. According to court records, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Silver King Entertainment, Inc. by Tampa attorneys Mitchell L. Feldman and Dennis A. Creed.

In addition to McLaughlin and Save The Tarpon, Inc., board members Lew Hastings, Frank Davis, Chris Frohlich, Mark Futch, Walton “Tommy” Locke Jr. and Rhett Morris are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Richard Hirsh, who no longer serves on the Save The Tarpon, Inc. board, is also listed as a defendant. Hastings, recently appointed executive director of Save The Tarpon, Inc., also serves as executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

McLaughlin said Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s lawsuit and its request for injunctive relief ask the court to invoke the rarely successful legal tactic of “prior restraint,” a maneuver designed to prohibit Save The Tarpon, Inc. and the individual defendants from publishing or voicing opinions or concerns that could potentially cast the televised tarpon tournament in a poor light.

McLaughlin noted that former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, in the Supreme Court’s 1976 landmark Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart ruling that declared the tactic unconstitutional, wrote that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Pointing to a lengthy list of sponsors who have withdrawn their support of the tournament in recent months, Silver King Entertainment, Inc is also asking the court to force Save The Tarpon, Inc. to end its member-driven online boycott of businesses that support the controversial event. McLaughlin said the legality of the group’s voluntary boycott efforts was affirmed in yet another landmark ruling, one that dates to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that a peaceful boycott was a constitutionally protected form of legitimate free speech under the First Amendment.

McLaughlin cited the words of Justice John Paul Stevens who, writing for the majority, stated “concerted action is a powerful weapon. And yet one of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

Characterizing the PTTS lawsuit as “an act of obvious desperation,” McLaughlin said Save The Tarpon, Inc. will “aggressively defend the ability of our members and supporters to have their voices heard on this and any other issue that impacts the future of our fishery and our community. We will continue the fight to protect, preserve and grow this vital public resource. We won’t be silent, we aren’t going away.”

The PTTS dead (err… we mean sleeping) tarpon cover-up

This video was filmed on June 17, 2012 during the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) Tarpon Cup Championship. Unlike all other PTTS events, no DNA samples were taken by the PTTS during this event. Here is a short explanation from a first-hand witness who was on the boat which captured this footage. For more of the story, read this.

“When I was asked to participate in the PTTS championship protest I didn’t know what to expect or what reaction I would receive from some of the PTTS participants as I had been a participant myself at one time. I expected to see some of the typical bumper boat type action the PTTS is well known for. Having not participated in the PTTS for some time now, I was completely unaware of what happens behind the scenes to the tarpon after they are weighed.

In years prior, the team that caught and weighed in a fish was responsible for reviving and releasing that fish. In my opinion, I feel the PTTS was under some pressure from the public for dead tarpon washing up on the beach the day after the tournament. The PTTS decided to use a “trained” release team to be in charge of all tarpon after they have been dragged to the scale and weighed in. I was fully aware of their new policy, what I was not aware of however was the blatant disregard for the tarpon once the release team took possession.

What we filmed that day was a total lack of respect for the the tarpon that were to be released. The PTTS crews were not happy about us filming their actions that day and they did their best to cover up the dead tarpon they were dumping by having other PTTS boats wake our boat. This is what happens at the PTTS behind the scenes.”

Have you noticed the boycott list is quietly shrinking?

Save The TarponWe’re urging our nearly 18,000 supporters and members to periodically check the boycott list. It is updated regularly as tournament and team sponsors continue to notify Save The Tarpon that they have opted to quietly end their affiliation with the PTTS. We have, of course, respected their wishes.

If you notice a business no longer appears on the list, don’t hesitate to show your appreciation. Stop by. Give them a quick call. Shoot off an email. Make a purchase. Let them know they’ve done the right thing.

We make every attempt to keep the list current. If your business is among those no longer participating in the PTTS as a tournament or team sponsor, please let us know by dropping us a line. We can be reached at contact@savethetarpon.com.

See our boycott list >
Sign our easy online petition >

Who’s next? Florida trucking firm pulls sponsor plug on PTTS

One day after Miller’s Ale House officially severed its sponsorship ties to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, yet another PTTS sponsor has announced that it, too, is walking away.

PTTS Team Patterson Freight Systems

Looks like Team Patterson Freight Systems will be saying ‘bye-bye’ to the PTTS in 2013.

Patterson Freight SystemsFlorida-based Patterson Freight Systems Inc., with corporate headquarters in Plant City, is a division of The Patterson Companies. The company was a long-time PTTS sponsor, supporter and participant. It joins a growing list of brands that have recently elected to end corporate affiliation with the controversial cable TV fishing tournament.

According to Bobby Tyson, director of sales and marketing, Patterson Freight Systems Inc. is “not participating in the PTTS events this year.” Tyson added, “like you we are interested in the preservation of the species as well as the fishery that is Boca Grange Pass.”

In announcing Patterson’s decision to cut the PTTS financial cord, Tyson also cited economics, noting “we did not feel that the advertising expense was hitting our market enough to justify the outlay.”

Skeeter Boats latest big name sponsor to withdraw from PTTS

Skeeter BoatsSkeeter Boats has announced it is joining Andros Boatworks, Costa del Mar Sunglasses and Tires Plus Total Car Care as the latest high profile brand to end its affiliation with the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

In a statement released Wednesday, Feb. 20, the company pointed to “the controversy surrounding the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series,” noting that it “will not renew its sponsorship agreement with the PTTS for 2013.”

Skeeter Boats is a subsidiary of Yamaha Marine. The company’s brief statement did not address whether Yamaha has yet to make a decision to continue its 2013 affiliation with the tournament through its outboard motor division. Ingman Marine, owned by PTTS principal Gary Ingman, is one of Southwest Florida’s largest Yamaha dealers, with three locations in Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

“Yamaha Marine supports many agencies and organizations that are focused on conservation to protect and enhance our fishery resources. We encourage all anglers and organizations to support these efforts,” the company said in its announcement.

Yamaha’s decision to further distance itself from the PTTS comes just four days after Tires Plus Total Car Care announced it was ending its sponsorship of the controversial tarpon tournament. The Skeeter Boats announcement was made one day after Save The Tarpon published an “open letter” to PTTS sponsors on SaveTheTarpon.com inviting them to voluntarily end their affiliation with the tournament.

Costa del Mar Sunglasses and Tires Plus Total Car Care pulled the sponsorship plug on the PTTS after the companies were spotlighted by Save The Tarpon through its online “Do The WRITE Thing” campaign. The effort brought together the group’s nearly 14,000 members and supporters who reached out to both high-profile PTTS sponsors.

Yamaha’s decision to withraw the financial support of its Skeeter Boats division – its boats were part of the tournament’s 2012 prize package – is the latest setback to hit the PTTS. The tournament, through its TV show host Joe Mercurio, recently announced it was forced to cancel all but one Women’s Professional Tarpon Tournament Series event due to what Mercurio said was “the persistent challenging economic operating environment.” The decision to abandon the women’s events came in the aftermath of Costa’s withdrawal and eight days prior to Tires Plus official announcement it was pulling the sponsorship plug.

Troy Sapp, senior vice president of the Florida Guides Association and an outspoken supporter of the PTTS, is among the tournament participants who had been sponsored by Skeeter Boats.

Skeeter Boats is a major player in the boating industry. Company founder Holmes Thurmond is credited with inventing the modern bass boat in 1948 and the first fiberglass bass boat in 1961.

An open letter to PTTS sponsors – and an invitation

For the past month or so, Save The Tarpon has been profiling companies that have attached their brand to the controversial Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. It’s an awareness campaign. Our members and supporters, more than 12,000 of them, have responded by contacting PTTS sponsors through Facebook, email and by phone.

Two companies have been profiled to date. Both have discontinued their sponsorship of the event. More PTTS sponsors will be profiled in the coming weeks and months. This is in addition to our ongoing boycott effort. And yes, you are on the list.

preserve-and-protect.jpgWe’ve discovered something interesting along the way. PTTS sponsors who have reached out to us have been largely unaware that they’ve been promoting this event. Others viewed the PTTS as “just another fishing show.” Many have since taken a closer look. It’s fair to say they aren’t happy about what they’ve seen and what they’ve learned.

Save The Tarpon has made education a priority since its formation in June, 2012. We have targeted our message of conservation, preservation and respect for the tarpon fishery to the public, anglers, sportsmen, politicians and, of course, the corporate community. Our “Do The WRITE Thing” effort was designed to help spread this message to companies like yours which, we truly believe, made a well-intentioned but poorly vetted sponsorship decision.

When Save The Tarpon was launched this past summer – and yes, our organization is less than a year old – overtures were made to the principals of the PTTS. We asked the tournament to consider ending the practice we call “gaff and drag” and follow the lead of similar events by adopting a true catch and release format that research has shown dramatically increases survival. We asked the PTTS to crack down on the reckless boat handling methods of its participants, what the PTTS proudly touts as “organized chaos.” We asked the PTTS to take measures to assure the fishing public would once again have unfettered access to Boca Grande Pass at all times.

The PTTS refused. “Refused” is a polite way of describing the tournament’s response. Back then, Save The Tarpon boasted fewer than 100 members and supporters. The PTTS, on the other hand, boasted corporate backing from some of the biggest players on the planet. The combined clout of companies much like yours allowed PTTS television host Joe Mercurio, speaking on your behalf, to go on the record and publicly state “we’ll stop when someone tells us to stop.”

As you can see, Save The Tarpon’s message is now being carried around the world by our nearly 11,000 followers on Facebook alone. Thousands more, including some of the most respected names in sport fishing and conservation, have committed to our efforts via the online petition you’ll find here at SaveTheTarpon.com. “Someone,” clearly, is telling the PTTS it’s time to stop. The list now includes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

When Tires Plus Total Car Care’s decision to drop its PTTS sponsorship was announced by Save The Tarpon on Facebook, the move was welcomed by our followers on this popular social media platform. Many also wondered “who’s next?” Fair question.

After Costa del Mar Sunglasses withdrew its support of the PTTS last month, and as word spread that Tires Plus was eyeing a strategic exit, Save The Tarpon has been in contact with a number of PTTS sponsors. These discussions have been both productive and positive. We fully grasp the complexity of corporate sponsorship agreements, and that it often takes more than a quick phone call to bail out of what many companies have now come to understand wasn’t the best business decision.

These conversations have prompted us to put a number of planned “sponsor profiles” and “Do The WRITE Thing” efforts on hold – including one that had been scheduled for publication within the next week. Although talks are continuing, these sponsors will remain on Save The Tarpon’s boycott list until a determination is announced.

We are also inviting the handful of PTTS sponsors who have yet to open the lines of communication with Save The Tarpon to take this moment to join the discussion. We’ll be happy to answer whatever questions you might have. And while holding off for a week or so might not be a popular move among some of our supporters, we’re prepared to take this step as a sign of our willingness to find a way to work together in a positive direction.

Feel free to send off an email addressed to contact@savethetarpon.com. Let us know who to reach out to and when. And, of course, how. We understand you aren’t the bad guys here. Our experience tells us you’re likely caught in the middle. We’re here to help. We promise to listen to your concerns. We also promise, of course, to share a few of our own to assist you in making an informed decision to, if we can paraphrase ourselves, “Do The RIGHT Thing.”

 

 

 

You did it! Tires Plus pulls the plug on the PTTS

Rodney Taucher, PTTS co-owner

Rodney Taucher, PTTS co-owner, stepped in a lot more than he figured when he struck a pose while stepping on a dead PTTS tarpon. Publication of the photo, along with your calls and emails, prompted Tires Plus to become the latest company to drop its PTTS sponsorship. Taucher was wearing a Tires Plus tee shirt in the original photo,

Tires Plus Total Car Care Inc.,  through its parent company Bridgestone/Firestone, has confirmed it is withdrawing its sponsorship of the 2013 Professional Tarpon Tournament Series as a result of efforts by Save The Tarpon’s more than 12,000 members and supporters worldwide.

“Tires Plus is not a 2013 PTTS sponsor,” according to Susan Steino, manager of public relations for Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC., which purchased the Clearwater-based tire and auto service chain in 2000.

Tires Plus had sponsored the controversial PTTS “Tires Plus Release Team,” which had become better known as the “Tires Plus Drag and Dump Crew” for its documented practice of dragging near-dead tarpon to the deepest part of Boca Grande Pass and dumping them. According to statements made on air by PTTS host Joe Mercurio, the team’s alleged purpose was to “revive” the fish.

Steino had earlier said Bridgestone was unaware its subsidiary was sponsoring the controversial tarpon tournament until the company began receiving phone calls and emails from Save The Tarpon supporters. Tires Plus was profiled January 21 as a PTTS sponsor.

Tires Plus is the second PTTS sponsor and the second Florida-based company to be “targeted” by Save The Tarpon’s “Do The Write Thing” awareness effort. The first, Costa Del Mar Sunglasses Inc., withdrew its PTTS sponsorship earlier last month in the wake of publication of a similar sponsor profile. Both former PTTS sponsors were part of a broader Save The Tarpon boycott campaign. Both have been removed from the list as a result of their decision to sever ties with the PTTS.

Boycott Tires Plus - Total Car CareTires Plus said a photo of a PTTS official wearing a company tee shirt while posing with his foot resting on a dead PTTS tarpon, along with other photographs and video at SaveTheTarpon.com and on Facebook showing roped tarpon being towed into the Pass by boats bearing the Tires Plus brand, hastened the company’s decision to become the latest sponsor to bolt the televised fishing tournament.

Daytona Beach-based Costa Del Mar Sunglasses Inc., a subsidiary of the A. T. Cross Company, was spotlighted by SaveTheTarpon.com in an online sponsor profile on December 28, 2012. Costa notified Save The Tarpon Inc. on January 13, 2013 that it, too, was cutting the sponsorship cord to the PTTS. Costa was subsequently removed from the Save The Tarpon boycott list. It has since received dozens of messages via Facebook alone praising the former PTTS sponsor for its prompt decision to end its affiliation with the tournament.

On February 4 the PTTS cited what Mercurio called “the persistent challenging economic operating environment” when it broke the news it was cancelling all but one of its women’s tournaments slated for 2013. The decision to abandon the women’s events came in the aftermath of Costa’s withdrawal and eight days prior to Tires Plus official announcement it was pulling the sponsorship plug. Sarasota-based Andros Boatworks ended its PTTS affiliation in June.

Save The Tarpon’s supporters reacted quickly and positively to news of Tires Plus Total Car Care’s decision to end its PTTS sponsorship. The company’s withdrawal was first announced to Save The Tarpon’s more than 10,600 followers on Facebook.

“This is where I will buy tires from here on!” Gregg Rodier wrote, just one of dozens of comments posted to the page. All echoed a similar theme. From Don Gable: “Thanks Tire Plus! Great move to preserve a great treasure!” Ditto Shane Sovan: “Way to make the right call!” And Vicki Lapple Hensley added: “Good going, now I might shop there again.” Save The Tarpon supporters have also posted comments praising the company’s decision on the Tires Plus Facebook page.

Facebook follower Ryan Hawks proclaimed “Victory!” and was among many who asked “Who’s next?” Stay tuned, Ryan. Stay tuned.